published 23 Feb 2007, MST
A few weeks ago, a package from the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines was delivered to my desk at the office. The envelope contained a reference book on Republic Act 9262, otherwise known as the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004. There was a cover letter from the group’s chairman, Elizabeth Angsioco, saying she hopes “the book can be of use to you or your program... in tackling relevant social issues.”
Much has been said about this landmark law, which was a product of many years of lobbying from many groups. Don’t worry, I am not about to go through the law’s provisions and the nuances. The reference book itself does a great job – more, actually, since it has a section on statistics, frequently asked questions, the actual statute, the implementing rules and regulations, as well as a list of organizations involved one way or another in the cause.
RA 9262 is deemed a landmark law because it provides immediate relief to women who decide to leave their abusive partners. The law also says that the crime may not only be committed by husbands. Other persons, meaning male or female, with whom the woman has or has had a sexual or dating relationship, may be held accountable for abusive behavior. The law also enumerates the forms of abuse other than the commonly-known physical battering.
Landmark implementation, however, may well be several years or even decades from today. It requires social conditioning, something that is not achieved in the short term.
Why? Filipinos, despite our penchant for rumor-mongering, generally respect the family as a self-sustaining unit. We would not dare meddle with our neighbors’ domestic affairs. As a simplistic example, imagine seeing a couple arguing in a parking lot. The man then slaps and kicks the woman, hurling invectives at her. Aside from staring, do we really expect people to do something to stop the man, especially when he growls, “wag kang makialam, away ng mag-asawa ito [stay out of this, this is a domestic issue]?” Not by a long shot. Would barangay and police officials intervene or react the same way?
Another hurdle is the Battered Woman Syndrome. Remember that violence in a domestic (or sexual or dating) relationship is not a one-time event. It is an exposure to repeated trauma, something that has a pattern.
It may also be more difficult for an abused party to take drastic steps and seek the help of others when the form of violence perpetuated upon her is more insidious. The law says violence is not limited to physical battering. There is also economic abuse, sexual abuse, and perhaps the least obvious and the most silent of all, verbal abuse.
Verbal (sometimes called emotional) abuse is made up of a series of incidents or a pattern of behavior that occurs over time. It is more than insults or arguments. It is a series of repeated incidents that threaten, isolate, degrade, humiliate or control the other person.
American author Patricia Evans (www.PatriciaEvans.com) argues that verbal abuse is actually more devastating and has longer-term effects because it cuts to the core of the person, attacking her very being.
In her book, The Verbally Abusive Relationship, Evans says:
“The abuse may not sound like much and often, people around (the victim) will minimize the experience, telling her that it’s not so bad. But a climate of disregard for a person’s feelings, where one is subjected to constant or frequent criticisms, being yelled at, or being ignored, has a deep and profound effect, attacking the very self-image and confidence of a person.”
Evans says that verbal abuse may fall into many categories, including abusive anger (blowing up at the partner), constant criticism (usually in sensitive areas like intelligence, physical appearance, family history or parenting skills), name-calling, threatening, blaming, and making irrational demands.
The Web site offers a lot: How to tell whether you are being abused and, for those in a new relationship, how to spot a potential abuser. It also makes suggestions on how to deal with your situation especially when the woman cannot leave her partner just yet because of a host of considerations.
Women who have “survived” (successfully got out of the relationship) an abusive relationship say it’s very difficult even to decide to leave. The greater tragedy is that not all victims are even aware that they have that option.
Quantum physicists say that light trapped in a black hole stays there and cannot escape until it musters a tremendous amount of energy to get past what is known as the event horizon. If that level of energy is not met, light is trapped—sucked inward, perhaps forever.
This is a good analogy for those plagued with the Battered Woman Syndrome and feel as though they are helpless or powerless. The problem is the mere act of staying compromises the well being of the woman—and her children, especially if the abuse extends to them. Her inertia prevents her from being truly happy and realizing her worth and potential. It renders her incapable of reaching out to people, contributing her talents and making a difference in the bigger world. She’s just too damned choked up in her own situation.
Support groups like her family, friends, and women’s rights advocates are invaluable. Their voices take her out of her mindset that is essentially the same as that of her abuser (i.e., that He Rules), especially if they live in the same house and breathe the same air. They provide the pull from outside that would, in time, enable the light that is the woman to escape her own Black Hole.
It’s a long and arduous battle, and it has barely started, but we are prepared for it. Yes, if only to ensure that our daughters, nieces and granddaughters can live in a kinder, less oppressive world.
(The Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines holds office in Maalindog St., UP Village, Diliman, Quezon City. Its contact numbers are 927-1766 and 925-6395.)
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